EMS Personnel Doing a Patient Examination. Photo By michaeljung

The Importance of Being Proficient at Medical and Trauma Assessment

As long as I have taught EMT classes I have tried my best to instill in students the absolute importance of being highly proficient, to the point of expert level, on their Medical and Trauma assessment skills.

On the very first day of class, I immediately start into Medical Assessment, usually with a student body that has little or no understanding of what they are saying or what it all actually means. The idea is to put the most vital information into their heads from day one, then hit on it again and again, in each and every class, to the point where they can do the skill without even thinking about it.

But why is Medical and Trauma assessment so important and why do we EMT Instructors push so hard for our students to not only get it right, but also to grasp the whole reason for the skill?

The first reason is that there are only a handful of people in the medical field that actually DO a Medical and a Trauma assessment: EMT’s, Paramedics, ER Doctors and a few more ancillary medical professionals. However, the folks that do it the most and need to do it the most are the EMTs and Paramedics in the field, for the simple reason of it being how we figure out what is wrong and what going on with our patients.

The next reason, and this is for our newly educated and not yet licensed folks, is that by understanding the order of the Medical and Trauma assessment and being proficient in the skill, you will have a better chance at passing the National Registry and obtaining your license.

Now why is that you say? Well, on the NREMT exam, a whole host of questions ask the test taker questions like, “after you have assessed your patients ABC’s, what would you do next?” If you know the mnemonics (abbreviations) and order with which we do the skill by heart, you will easily know what comes next in the medical assessment. Do you know what comes next after the ABCs in the Medical assessment without looking it up?

As an instructor, to ensure that my students understand both the mnemonics and order with which to do them, I have them do a few things every single class, on top of learning a new and different skill.

1. Each class, each student writes the entire skill on the board, both Trauma and
Medical assessment, and in the correct order with or with their notes.

2. Each and every class, each student performs a scenario for both Medical and
Trauma assessment. Every single class. And yes, it drives them nuts.

3. For the first few weeks they can use any aid they wish to get through it, but
by week 4, they do it, mistakes and all, as best as they can, by memory.

As a result of this way of teaching and learning I have seen test scores go up, student understanding of the business and skill improve sooner, and their self confidence go through the roof.

Oh yeah, and the answer to the question is, “after assessing the ABC’s on your medical assessment patient what is the next thing you do?”

You identify the patient priority and make treatment or transport decision.

It is not start History taking, like so many students say you do next.

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Jack Murphy
Jack Murphy is a licensed firefighter, EMT and EMS Instructor in Michigan and California, holds a JD in real estate law and BA in History as well as numerous industry related certifications. These days Jack teaches a Hybrid EMT program at a small College in the Los Angeles area.

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